Restoring law and order: US soldiers have
not always been diplomatic in their efforts
to win "hearts and minds"
US soldiers stripped four suspected Iraqi thieves naked and burned their clothes before pushing them into the street, journalists from a Norwegian newspaper who witnessed the incident told AFP on Saturday.

The soldiers also wrote "Ali Baba. Haram" in Arabic across the Iraqis' chests in a crude reference to the tale of "Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves," said Line Fransson from the Oslo-based Dagbladet daily.

The phrase translates roughly as slang for "sinful thieves."

"We suddenly saw four naked Iraqi guys with four American soldiers," said Fransson, on her way with a photographer in the early morning to do a story about the suffering of animals at Baghdad's zoo in Zawra park amid the war.

"We thought they were going to the bathroom. They went into a building and a minute later (the soldiers) pushed them out into the main street," she said.

"Then the naked guys ran as fast as they could" to a friend who was waiting in a nearby car, she said. Photographs taken by the newspaper and shown to AFP appear to confirm the incident.

One of the Iraqis, who gave his name as Ziad and said he was 20, spoke to the reporters once he managed to find a pair of shorts. He claimed he and his friends were in the park to search for his missing younger brother.

US soldiers in Baghdad have been using
original methods to address the looting

The commanding army officer at the scene, First Lieutenant Eric Canaday, confirmed his men had stripped the Iraqis. He said he had been having trouble with young Iraqi men trying to steal light weapons being stored in the park.

He claimed he got the idea to strip them from people in the neighbourhood.

"They gave us the idea so we took their clothes and burned them and then we pushed them out with thief written on them," Canaday was quoted as telling the journalists. He confirmed their clothes had been set on fire with gasoline.

"It has actually been pretty successful," he said, claiming that as many as 100 people had been trying to steal the weapons, including Kalashnikov rifles, which are being stored to eventually re-arm Iraq's security services.

"It's not as bad as it seems," a laughing Canaday was quoted as saying, "we only do it to the people who are stealing weapons."

"A little public shaming; no physical damage and everything will be fine tomorrow," he said. "Hopefully they will be embarrassed enough not to come back."

Canaday said his soldiers, who wrote on the Iraqis with a black marker, had "done this one time before" but that time "we only did it with one person."

He said he intended to continue the policy.

Fransson said that when the US soldiers pushed the Iraqis into the street they were shouting after them: "Ali Baba, Ali Baba. "Ziad said he was so angry being humiliated by the soldiers that the only thing he wanted to do was find a grenade and throw it at the American soldiers and all the other ones in the city," she said.

The chief of US army public affairs, Colonel Rick Thomas, said it "certainly does not sound like the type of incident we have seen during this operation," but declined further comment. He could not say if an investigation would be opened.